Quotulatiousness

December 14, 2014

New BBC historical TV series as accurate as possible … except for the codpieces being “too small”

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:02

Apparently, the fear was that US TV audiences would be shocked by authentic sized boasting pieces:

They may have been the crowning glory for any right-thinking Tudor gentleman, but it appears the traditional codpiece may be a little too much for American television viewers.

The stars of Wolf Hall, the BBC’s new period drama based on the novels of Hilary Mantel, have disclosed they have been issued with “smaller”-than average codpieces, out of respect for viewers’ sensibilities.

Mark Rylance, who stars as Thomas Cromwell in the forthcoming BBC series, said programme-makers had decided on “very small codpieces” which had to be “tucked away”.

He suggested allowances had been made amid concerns about the taste of modern audiences, particularly in America, who “may not know exactly what’s going on down there”.

It is one of few concessions permitted by programme-makers, who have otherwise gone to remarkable lengths to ensure historical accuracy, including trips to Shakespeare’s Globe to learn sword-fighting, lessons in etiquette and bowing, and a comprehensive study on spoons.

Mantel has given her seal of approval to the production, issuing a statement of glowing praise for how it has been adapted on screen.

Saying she was pleased programme-makers had resisted the temptation to “patronise” the Tudors to make them “cute”, she said: “My expectations were high and have been exceeded.”

When asked about the costumes in a Q&A to launch the BBC show, alongside actors Damian Lewis and Claire Foy, Rylance said they “did take a while to put on” but praised the overall effect.

“I think the codpieces are too small,” he added. “I think it was a direction from our American producers PBS [the US public service broadcaster] – they like very small codpieces which always seemed to be tucked away.”

When asked to clarify, he said: “I wasn’t personally disappointed by the codpieces: I’m a little more used to them than other people from being at the Globe for ten years.

“But I can see for modern audiences, perhaps more in America, they may not know exactly what’s going on down there.”

H/T to David Stamper for the link(s).

December 7, 2014

Here’s a Christmas campaign I can get behind – Ban Rudolph!

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

My old internet friend Roger Henry sent this to a mailing list we both subscribe to … and I think it’s a good cause indeed:

If you wish to start a bun fight then you should support me in my efforts to have Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer banned.

It promotes bullying, humiliation of disabled or disfigured people. Rudolph’s fellow reindeer are bullies and sycophantic suck-holes. Santa needs serious re-education for allowing this behavior to flourish in the reindeer stables, and it sets a very bad example to the kiddies — and adults.

December 6, 2014

I still say Galaxy Quest was the best Star Trek movie

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

… and now here’s Kathy Shaidle saying the same thing:

“By Grabthar’s Hammer…” but also “It’s real.”

And when they torture the little alien.

Oh, man. I’m tearing up just typing that.

If Star Wars had been this good, I’d have been a fan.

One day people will realize that Galaxy Quest is the better movie, like they’ll realize that Goodfellas is better than The Godfather and Psycho is better than Vertigo.

Anyway:

    “By Grabthar’s Hammer” was a temp line. It was basically the Hammer of Thor, but Grabthar just sounded so silly. I kept meaning to change it, but around the production offices, they started to make t-shirts, it started to sink in a little bit.

Harold Ramis was initially supposed to direct.

He wanted either Alec Baldwin or Kevin Kline for the Tim Allen role. But Allen being a recovering alcoholic f-up in real life really adds to his performance.

Uploaded on 20 Oct 2006

This is the mockumentary on Galaxy Quest that aired on E! before the movie came out. It’s about the fake show’s 20th anniversary and everybody’s in character. The quality is kind of sketch but this is crazy rare. Credit goes to britbitsandclips.com.

November 8, 2014

The “Johnny Bravo” of American politics

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:48

From this week’s Goldberg File email newsletter [Update: it’s now online]:

In Men in Dark Times Hannah Arendt says, “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it … it brings about consent and reconciliation with things as they really are.”

This, naturally, brings to mind that great episode of the Brady BunchAdios, Johnny Bravo.” This YouTube video summarizes the tale expertly, but since you might be at work and are reluctant to get caught watching Brady Bunch videos (again) at the office, I will summarize. Greg Brady, scion of House Brady, is offered a contract from a record label. At first he is reluctant to sign on because he’s a loyal member of his family band. But the record producers convince him that he owes it to himself to be all he can be. They want him to become the new smash-hit sensation “Johnny Bravo.”

The role of Johnny Bravo comes complete with a sensational matador-themed costume and a rented gaggle of winsome young ladies ready to tear it off on command (very much like the job of senior editor here at National Review). The producers promise that he won’t simply be in the Top 20, he’ll be the Top 20. “Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride,” they tell him. It would be a tempting offer for any young man.

After much soul-searching, Greg agrees to become Johnny Bravo. That is, until he finds out that the producers don’t much care about his musical talent. Through the wizardry of music production — long before the advent of AutoTune — they twist his vocal stylings to what the market wants, not what Greg’s muse has on offer. “That’s not the way I sound!” Greg protests.

The producer retorts, “You? Now c’mon baby, don’t get caught up on an ego trip. I mean who cares how you sound? We’re after the sound.”

If you don’t care about my sound, what do you need me for? Greg asks.

“Because you fit the suit,” another producer responds.

Putting the O in BravO

Forgive me for committing the error of defining my meaning. But Barack Obama fits the suit.

In my USA Today column this week, I argued that Barack Obama is indisputably good at one thing: Getting elected president of the United States.

That’s it. He’s not good at being president of the United States. He’s not good at being the head of his party. He’s not good at diplomacy or public policy or managing large bureaucracies. He has no new ideas. But man did he fit the suit, metaphorically speaking.

[…]

I realize this runs against the grain of a lot of right-wing thinking — that Obama is really a secret Muslim-Marxist radical biding his time to seize the means of production and impose sharia. Well, the clock is running out on that theory.

I have no doubt that Obama’s more left-wing in his heart than he is in his speeches and public priorities. But my basic point is that Obama doesn’t realize that his electoral success was a function of the media age we are in. He fit the part. He said the right words. He was an anti-George W. Bush when lots of people desperately wanted an anti-George W. Bush. He was black, cool, and eggheady in just the right way. Voting for Obama made lots of people feel good about themselves — which is a terrible reason to vote for anybody. Media elites and average Americans alike were seduced because they wanted to be seduced.

They — starting with Obama himself — believed the hype. And he still does.

He’s like modern-day Johnny Bravo lip-synching an auto-tuned song about “keeping it real” and he thinks he’s actually keeping it real. He goes around talking about how much he hates talking points and sound-bites, how much he loathes cynicism and ideology. And yet, he does all this in talking points and sound-bites packed like verbal clown cars with ideology and cynicism.

November 4, 2014

The chilling future of TV ads

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:21

Think today’s ads on TV are irritating? You ain’t seen nothing yet:

I’ve discussed in the past how many people mistake privacy as some sort of absolute “thing” rather than a spectrum of trade-offs. Leaving your home to go to the store involves giving up a small amount of privacy, but it’s a trade-off most people feel is worth it (not so much for some uber-celebrities, and then they choose other options). Sharing information with a website is often seen as a reasonable trade-off for the services/information that website provides. The real problem is often just that the true trade-offs aren’t clear. What you’re giving up and what you’re getting back aren’t always done transparently, and that’s where people feel their privacy is being violated. When they make the decision consciously and the trade-off seems worth it, almost no one feels that their privacy is violated. Yet, when they don’t fully understand, or when the deal they made is unilaterally changed, that’s when the privacy is violated, because the deal someone thought they were striking is not what actually happened.

And, unfortunately, it often seems like people are increasingly being pressured into deals they don’t fully understand and don’t have full control over. Michael Price, over at the Brennan Center for Justice, took the time to actually read through the “privacy policy” on his new “smart” TV and it’s terrified him. Just the fact that a TV even has a privacy policy seems oddly terrifying, but it makes sense, given that at least some information goes outbound as part of the “smarts.” But how much? Potentially a lot more than people would expect:

    The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.” It records “the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.” It ignores “do-not-track” requests as a considered matter of policy.

To some extent, that’s not really all that different than a regular computer. But, then it begins to get creepier:

    It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide “gesture control” for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.

    More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a “voice recognition” feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV.

    You may not be watching, but the telescreen is listening.

November 3, 2014

Trekonomics

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:18

In The Federalist, Robert Tracinski responds to last month’s Reason.tv list of the top five anti-libertarian TV shows with a stirring defence of Star Trek:

… there are occasional statements by our lead characters, particularly in Star Trek: The Next Generation, about how the economy has evolved beyond money. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this is an unfortunate bit of pseudo-science: “A complex, technologically advanced economy that runs without money, prices, and markets is like a starship powered by a perpetual motion machine.” There’s a more detailed takedown at Hot Air which asks: “Who Mines the Dilithium?

Some of this was toned down as The Next Generation got its dramatic feet under it and the writers gradually disentangled themselves from the mandates of Gene Rodenberry’s liberal utopianism. When you have to take an idea and project it into concrete terms, you quickly discover what really makes sense and what just doesn’t work. For example, having an empath as a part of the command team seems like a great idea — until you discover that she is only really capable of delivering the most banal insights. So that element of the story is downgraded. The same happened as Star Trek continued, particularly with the Ferengi, a race of galactic traders who start out as a crude anti-capitalist caricature (which borrowed uncomfortably from Nazi caricatures of Jewish bankers). Over the course of the franchise, particularly in Deep Space Nine, they were humanized (so to speak) and transformed more into lovable rogues, while Quark’s bar provided Deep Space Nine with its thriving commercial hub.

[…]

It’s important to draw a distinction between what a work of art tells you and what it shows you. In the world of Star Trek, there are a few, infrequent references in which we are told that the economy works (somehow) without prices. But the socialism all happens quietly off screen, and it’s not what the show is actually about. The show is about the culture and approach to life of those on board the Enterprise (or the other vessels in later spin-off series). And the culture of the Federation bears none of the hallmarks of a socialist society.

When people are provided with a guaranteed living, whether they work or not, they don’t generally devote themselves to self-improvement, the betterment of mankind, the writing of deathless poetry, or the peaceful exploration of the galaxy. Instead, they tend to stop working, striving, or putting forth any effort at all, not even the effort of changing out of their pajamas in the morning. To the extent they do work, since effort has been disconnected from reward, they tend to avoid as much effort as possible. In the Soviet Union, there was an old joke: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” And when rewards and advancement are no longer connected to a person’s productivity, they tend to be distributed according to an alternative currency of political pull. So all organizations end up being run by preening politicians, scheming bureaucrats, and drone-like functionaries who are skilled at pushing paper and going through the motions of production rather than actually producing anything.

What we are shown on Star Trek is the opposite. As Virginia Postrel has pointed out, based on a survey of her readers, the actual appeal of Star Trek is that it presents a kind of ideal capitalist workplace.

    In Star Trek, the work is meaningful; the colleagues are smart, hard-working, competent and respectful; the leaders are capable and fair; and everyone has an important contribution to make…. Deep friendships develop from teamwork and high-stakes problem-solving. It’s the workplace as we wish it were.

November 2, 2014

It’s safe to just ignore the World Economic Forum’s report on pay gaps

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:37

In Forbes, Tim Worstall looks at how the World Economic Forum came up with their scary conclusions that the pay gap between men and women won’t disappear until 2095:

And that’s it: no, really, that is what they’re basing, in its entirety, their estimations of the gender pay gap upon. They asked a few people whether they thought that men and women got roughly the same pay for roughly the same sort of job or not and that’s it. This isn’t cutting edge data science to put it very kindly indeed.

For when we go off and look at the messy details of the gender pay gap we find that we’ve not really got one, not in the industrialised countries. Once we correct for the obvious things like hours at work, years in the workforce, educational background and so on we find that the mythical gender pay gap (that “women earn 77 cents to every $ men do”) simply disappears. There might be a small residual, a few percent, left in there but not enough that we can really notice. And quite apart from anything else it’s actually illegal to pay men and women different amounts for doing the same job (if on the basis that the different pay is purely as a result of their being men or women that is).

So, no, we shouldn’t be taking this report or finding seriously. And there’s more than just the fact that they’re using a survey to measure that gap. For of course the printing of this report will lead to, as the other incorrect claims about the gender pay gap do, a certain circularity of reasoning.

Ask someone: “Are men and women paid equally?” And they’ll start thinking about whoever it was that said that 77 cents line, recall that last year the WEF said that gender pay inequality was very bad indeed. So, now we come to asking them the same question for the next WEF survey and their answer will be influenced by the cacophony of voices that have been telling them how bad the gender pay disparity is. Including, obviously, last year’s WEF report that said so. It’s entirely circular and self-reinforcing.

Really, we shouldn’t be taking this stuff seriously.

October 28, 2014

QotD: The media’s ability to “shape” the news

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.

[…]

What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.

David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.

October 13, 2014

Russian media’s favourite German professor

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:59

Professor Lorenz Haag is frequently invited to provide a German opinion for Russian consumption — opinions that amazingly co-incide very well with those of the Russian government. There’s only one problem with Professor Haag: he appears to have been fabricated specifically to fulfil that role.

German Professor Lorenz Haag is what you’d call a Kremlin apologist.

Russian media regularly quotes him as praising President Vladimir Putin’s leadership, defending Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and urging the West to take a softer line toward Moscow.

“Professor” Haag, however, is by all accounts no professor.

And the organization he allegedly heads, the German “Agency for Global Communications,” has also been denounced as bogus.

Dmitry Khmelnitsky, a noted Russian architectural historian based in Berlin, was the first to cast doubt on the purported academic’s credentials.

“Professor Lorenz Haag, the head of the Agency for Global Communications, exists only in the imagination of ITAR-TASS correspondents who have interviewed him regularly and for many years in the capacity of ‘German expert,'” Khmelnitsky wrote in an October 6 post on Facebook. “There is no such professor in Germany. And no such agency.”

Khmelnitsky’s allegations have sparked intense speculation on the Russian Internet about Haag’s identity, motives, or even existence.

According to Russian blogger Pavel Gnilorybov, the state-run ITAR-TASS agency — which recently reverted to its Soviet-era name TASS — created the fictitious professor back in 2007.

October 10, 2014

Reason.tv – The 5 Most Anti-Libertarian TV Shows Ever!

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:57

Published on 10 Oct 2014

A little while ago, we tallied up “The 5 Best Libertarian TV Shows.” South Park, Penn & Teller: Bullshit, The Wire, The Prisoner, House of Cards: They’re all there, along with your abuse in the comments for leaving out Firefly, Yes, Minister, King of the Hill, and all your other favorites.

Now it’s time to list the five TV shows that are the absolute *worst* from a libertarian perspective.

October 8, 2014

QotD: Blue Tribe and Red Tribe media encoding

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

But the story I’m actually referring to is liberal talk show host / comedian Russell Brand making that same rant against Fox News for supporting war against the Islamic State, adding at the end that “Fox is worse than ISIS”.

That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

I would go further. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

[…]

In a way, Russell Brand would have been braver taking a stand against ISIS than against Fox. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE outgroup WHO’S BOSS!”

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 5, 2014

Jeremy Clarkson riles up Argentinian car fans

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

For a change, it isn’t anything he said:

Top Gear‘s crew has had to abandon their cars at the roadside and flee Argentina after being pelted with stones. The incident happened after it emerged they were using a vehicle with a number plate that apparently refers to the Falklands War.

A Porsche with the registration number H982 FKL, which some people suggested could refer to the Falklands conflict of 1982, was among those abandoned. BBC bosses have said the number plate was merely a coincidence and was not chosen deliberately, but it led to protests in Argentina, including a demonstration by a group of war veterans who protested outside the hotel used by the show team.

[…]

The executive producer of Top Gear, Andy Wilman, said: “Top Gear production purchased three cars for a forthcoming programme; to suggest that this car was either chosen for its number plate, or that an alternative number plate was substituted for the original, is completely untrue.”

Even if Wilman is dissembling about the license plate … just how flipping sensitive do you have to be to object to a sort-of abbreviation, in a foreign language, in the characters on a license plate? Who would ordinarily notice or care what the license plate may or may not hint at, unless someone is busy trying to stir up trouble? That said, Top Gear thrives on controversy, so it’s quite possible that they hoped they’d draw some attention, but probably not to the extent of being forced out of the country.

Update: Clarkson is now accusing the Argentine government of setting a trap for the Top Gear film crew.

The presenter was said to have infuriated locals by driving through South America in a Porsche with the numberplate H982 FKL, seen as a goading reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict.

However, Clarkson said the plate was “not the issue” — he claimed it was an unfortunate coincidence and that he removed it two days into the trip — and blamed the state government for orchestrating an ambush by mobs armed with pickaxe handles, paving stones and bricks.

“There is no question in my mind that we walked into a trap,” Clarkson said.

“We were English (apart from one Aussie camera guy and a Scottish doctor” and that was a good enough reason for the state government to send 29 people into a night filled with rage and flying bricks.”

He claimed the crew were “plainly herded into an ambush” and said: “Make no mistake, lives were at stake.”

[…]

The team were confronted at their hotel by a group claiming to be war veterans.

“Richard Hammond, James May and I bravely hid under the beds in a researcher’s room while protesters went through the hotel looking for us,” Clarkson said.

They then fled by plane to Buenos Aires — having “rounded up the girls” on the team — leaving the rest of their crew behind.

The crew were forced to make a gruelling six-hour trek to the Chilean border, abandoning the Porsche and their camera equipment at the side of the road.

October 1, 2014

The CRTC tries bully boy tactics to stay vaguely relevant in the 21st century

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:08

Richard Anderson perfectly captures the scene as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) attempts to browbeat Netflix into “voluntary” compliance with its (possibly extra-legal) demands:

Caudilho Jean-Pierre Blais of the CRTC actually ordered Netflix to hand over their confidential information. Acting as if he was a judge in a criminal trial instead of a busybody interfering with a successful business that is violating no one’s rights. It’s questionable as to whether the CRTC even has the legal power to make such a request. Netflix is not a broadcaster in any traditional sense of the word. The story behind the story is that a Trudeau-era regulatory framework is running smack up against the modern world.

With technology speeding past the CRTC Mandarins they are confronted with three options: 1) Acquiesce and watch as time turns them into a medieval guild during the industrial revolution. 2) Lobby the government to explicitly expand their powers over the internet. 3) Say to hell with the rule of law and see what they can get away with.

Option 1 ain’t happening because too many cushy jobs are at stake. Option 2 ain’t happening because the Tories may not understand capitalism but they don’t actively hate it. This leave us with option 3. As you can tell it is by far and away the worst option. This isn’t just a bad for consumers story it’s a bad for freedom story as well.

At the moment much of the media is focused on the pick and pay cable model debate. But the debate is little more than a statist three card monte trick, the government’s crude attempt to legislate business into behaving like what they think a free market should look like. The future, however, is being decided in the Netflix case.

September 24, 2014

Megan McArdle’s The Daily Show coping strategies

Filed under: Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:53

Should you ever be given the opportunity to appear on The Daily Show and for whatever reason you don’t immediately change your name and move to Bolivia, Megan McArdle has some advice for you:

  1. Don’t.
  2. If you must, bring two tape recorders, a video camera and a witness. Announce at the beginning that you are going to record this and reserve the right to release the entire recording to the public. When they tell you that they will not do the interview under those conditions, prepare to leave. There is no ethical reason that a reporter requires the ability to ask you questions without having those questions recorded. The reason they don’t want unedited audio is that you might release it and be revealed as a normal decent person, rather than a horrible fool.
  3. They may attempt to get you to stay by explaining that recording will interfere with their equipment. This is the point where you whip the video camera out of your bag and helpfully offer to videotape the interview instead. Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be alone in a room with the producers and no recording device.
  4. Seriously, don’t go on The Daily Show. They control the format, the questions and the editing process. There is no way you can win. Your purpose is to look like an idiot on the show, and they have all the tools they need to make sure you fulfill that purpose. There is a reason that you have never seen a video clip of someone who “beat” Jon Stewart — or Bill O’Reilly, or any other host of a show that pits professional interviewers against ordinary subjects. It’s the same reason you haven’t seen clips of ordinary folks beating Evander Holyfield: They are really good at this, and what they are good at is making you look like a stubborn moron who couldn’t find his backside with both hands in the dark.

[…]

The only reason for you to go on television is for your family to see you being on television, except that in this case, what your family is going to see is you being profoundly embarrassed on television. There is no way that this ends well. Stay home and watch The Daily Show instead; it’s really funny as long as you’re not the target of the joke.

September 21, 2014

The Roosevelts and the foundation of the Imperial Presidency

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:15

Amity Shlaes on the recent Ken Burns documentary on Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Eleanor Roosevelt:

“He is at once God and their intimate friend,” wrote journalist Martha Gellhorn back in the 1930s of President Franklin Roosevelt. The quote comes from The Roosevelts, the new Ken Burns documentary that PBS airs this month. But the term “documentary” doesn’t do The Roosevelts justice. “Extravaganza” is more like it: In not one but 14 lavish hours, the series covers two great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, who served in the first decade of the last century, and Franklin Roosevelt, who led our nation through the Great Depression and to victory in World War II. In his use of the plural, Burns correctly includes a third Roosevelt: Eleanor, who as first lady also affected policy, along with her spouse.

[…]

Absent, however, from the compelling footage is any display of the negative consequences of Rooseveltian action. The premise of Theodore Roosevelt’s trustbusting was that business was too strong. The opposite turned out to be true when, bullied by TR, the railroads promptly collapsed in the Panic of 1907. In the end it fell to TR’s very target, J. P. Morgan, to organize the rescue on Wall Street.

The documentary also neglects to mention that the economy of the early 1920s proved likewise fragile — casualty, in part, to President Woodrow Wilson’s fortification of TR’s progressive policies. Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge poured their own energy into halting the expansion of an imperial presidency and sustaining the authority of the states. This endeavor, anti-progressive, also won approbation: In 1920, the Harding-Coolidge ticket beat Cox-Roosevelt. The result of the Harding-Coolidge style of presidency was genuine and enormous prosperity. The 1920s saw the arrival of automobiles, indoor toilets, and the very radios that FDR would later use so effectively to his advantage. Joblessness dropped; the number of new patents soared. TR had enjoyed adulation, but so did his mirror opposite, the refrainer Coolidge.

When it comes to the 1930s, such twisting of the record becomes outright distortion. By his own stated goal, that of putting people to work, Roosevelt failed. Joblessness remained above 10 percent for most of the decade. The stock market did not come back. By some measures, real output passed 1929 levels monetarily in the mid 1930s only to fall back into a steep depression within the Depression. As George Will comments, “the best of the New Deal programs was Franklin Roosevelt’s smile.” The recovery might have come sooner had the smile been the only New Deal policy.

So great is Burns’s emphasis on the Roosevelt dynasty that William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover come away as mere seat warmers in the White House. Especially puzzling is the neglect of TR’s progressive heirs, Taft and Wilson, who, after all, set the stage for FDR. This omission can be explained only by Burns’s desire to cement the reign of the Roosevelts. On the surface, the series’ penchant for grandees might seem benign, like the breathless coverage of Princess Kate’s third trimester in People magazine. In this country, elevating presidential families is a common habit of television producers; the Kennedys as dynasty have enjoyed their share of airtime. Still, Burns does go further than the others, ennobling the Roosevelts as if they were true monarchs, gods almost, as in Martha Gellhorn’s above mentioned line. Burns equates progressive policy with the family that promulgates it. And when Burns enthrones the Roosevelts, he also enthrones their unkingly doctrine, progressivism.

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